Iowa Republican Mangles Constitution, Peddles Conspiracy Theories in Senate Race

Published On September 8, 2014 | By Marc Belisle |

First-term Iowa State Senator and Republican US Senate candidate Joni Ernst fears that the UN is subordinating the sovereignty of the US government, but believes that state governments have the right to “nullify” federal laws.

Ernst said in January at a GOP event during the primaries, that she was opposed to the UN’s Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 originally became a popular topic for the far right conspiracy theory crowd when Glenn Beck gave it extended coverage on Fox News in 2011.

In the video, Beck described it as a dystopian plot hatched by a secret network of American and European liberal politicians with secret communist sympathies bent on creating a system of “centralized control over all of human life on earth.”  He cackled that “social justice” and “sustainable development” were code words for their plot to implement global communism and the wholesale forced relocation of conservative rural communities.  To do so, he argued, they would overpower the US government by co-opting unsuspecting local government officials to use them against their constituents.

At the January event, Ernst displayed an intimate familiarity with this view.  She spoke about it at length, saying that Agenda 21 is “taking away property rights away from individuals,” and that it was forcing people to move from rural communities into urban centers.  She vowed to defend Iowa from Agenda 21 as a Senator: “The United Nations has imposed this upon us, and as a U.S. senator, I would say, ‘No more. No more Agenda 21.’”

In reality,

Agenda 21 is a voluntary action plan developed by the United Nations and national governments at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, … to combat poverty and pollution, conserve natural resources and develop in a sustainable manner. One-hundred-seventy-eight nations adopted the agenda, including the United States under the Bush [Sr.] Administration.

Agenda 21 is not a treaty or legally binding document and does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any nation, state, or local government. Agenda 21 does not advocate for abolishing private property or have any bearing on U.S. local and state land-use decisions. In other words, it isn’t being forced on anybody, anywhere, by any organization.

Ernst has downplayed her opposition to Agenda 21 in the general election.  But her cuddling up to the far right, including Glen Beck fans, raises serious questions about what her priorities would be as a US senator, when she subscribes to a conspiracy theory that ultimately stems from ignorant isolationism.  This is especially true since, as Meredith Shiner of Yahoo News notes,

the breadth and length of her response on the topic of Agenda 21 seems to belie a deep knowledge of the conspiracy theory floated by conservative radio icons on an issue on which many candidates would likely have no prepared talking points or strongly held opinions.

And her comments in January were not the first on the issue.

In contrast to Ernst’s fear that this 22-year-old non-binding action plan is subordinating the sovereignty of the US government, she supports the false notion that states have the power of “nullification” to overturn any federal laws they don’t agree with.

Speaking to the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, Ernst said,

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

She strongly implies that states have the right to abrogate federal law, and directly states that the federal government should defer to the wishes of the states.  She willfully misinterprets the Tenth Amendment, which merely grants the states powers that have not been specifically granted to the federal government.  Article III of the Constitution specifically grants the federal government primary sovereignty over the sovereignty of the states.  If Congress had to take the pulse of all 50 state legislatures before acting, it would be even more radically gridlocked than it already is.  The fact is that it doesn’t.  Courts have upheld this legal reality since the Founding with zero exceptions.

Nonetheless, “nullification” has been raised as a legal fantasy on the right in several episodes of American history.  Most notably, it was raised as states wrestled with the enforcement of fugitive slave laws in the run-up to the Civil War, and it was raised in challenge to the desegregation of schools following Brown v. Board of Education.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has come back into vogue in the Tea Party’s echo chamber, particularly in opposition to The Affordable Care Act.

Now, in the general campaign, Ernst is trying to have it both ways, embracing the far right, while telling the media she doesn’t actually believe those things.  A Des Moine Register editorial argues,

The Ernst campaign did some tap dancing to explain that she does not support nullification, even though she co-sponsored one resolution in the Iowa Senate that asserted the state’s sovereignty over federal laws that violate states’ rights and another resolution “urging the nullification” of rules adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This dichotomy, that she fears the UN violating the sovereignty of the US government, yet supports state governments doing the same, demonstrates that she fundamentally doesn’t understand American foreign policy, the US Constitution, or America’s system of federal government, or that she is opposed to all of the above.  She will use her power to support some of the most rabid elements of the Tea Party fringe.  She would also be an enthusiastic contributor to the paralysis in Washington, D.C.  The race in Iowa between Joni Ernst and Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley is the closest race in the country, statistically tied.  So, in this bellwether state which twice voted for Obama, if even a few Democrats don’t vote, they could allow her to bring her fringe politics to the capitol and hand control of the Senate to the GOP.

Her unbelievable attempts to distance herself from recent radical statements and actions are merely sheep’s clothing donned over a wolf far to the right of most Republicans in Congress.  In the 1990s, there was a series of films featuring Ernest P. Worrell, a preposterously goofy character who would go to places where he clearly didn’t fit in and have wacky misadventures.  The films included such gems as “Ernest Goes to Camp” and “Ernest Goes to School.”  Joni’s attempts to distance her candidate self from her far right self would fit neatly into this canon of absurdity in her current zany, madcap adventure the whole family will love, “Ernst Goes to the Center.”

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Marc Belisle
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Marc Belisle

Senior Writer at Reverb Press.
Marc Belisle is a writer, activist and teacher. He is a regular contributor to The Everlasting GOP Stoppers. He has an Master's degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies.

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Marc Belisle
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